Cambodia -- Geography --
Official Name: Kingdom of Cambodia
Capital City: Phnom Penh
Official Currency: Riel
Religions: Theravada Buddhism
13 971 000
Land Area: 181 035 sq km
Landforms: A land of plains, paddies and forests dominated by the Mekong River and Tonle Sap
Land Divisions: 20 provinces and 4 municipalities
Cambodia -- History --
Most Cambodians consider themselves to be Khmers, descendants of the Angkor Empire that extended over much of Southeast Asia and reached its zenith between the 10th and 13th centuries. Attacks by the Thai and Cham (from present-day Vietnam) weakened the empire ushering in a long period of decline. The king placed the country under French protection in 1863. Cambodia became part of French Indochina in 1887. Following Japanese occupation in World War II, Cambodia gained full independence from France in 1953. In April 1975, after a five-year struggle, Communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh and evacuated all cities and towns. At least 1.5 million Cambodians died from execution, forced hardships, or starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime under POL POT.
A December 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge into the countryside, began a 10-year Vietnamese occupation, and touched off almost 13 years of civil war. The 1991 Paris Peace Accords mandated democratic elections and a ceasefire, which was not fully respected by the Khmer Rouge. UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy under a coalition government. Factional fighting in 1997 ended the first coalition government, but a second round of national elections in 1998 led to the formation of another coalition government and renewed political stability. The remaining elements of the Khmer Rouge surrendered in early 1999. Some of the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial by a UN-sponsored tribunal for crimes against humanity. Elections in July 2003 were relatively peaceful, but it took one year of negotiations between contending political parties before a coalition government was formed.
Cambodia -- Economy --
In 1999, the first full year of peace in 30 years, the government made progress on economic reforms. The US and Cambodia signed a Bilateral Textile Agreement, which gave Cambodia a guaranteed quota of US textile imports and established a bonus for improving working conditions and enforcing Cambodian labor laws and international labor standards in the industry. From 2001 to 2004, the economy grew at an average rate of 6.4%, driven largely by an expansion in the garment sector and tourism. With the January 2005 expiration of a WTO Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, Cambodia-based textile producers were forced to compete directly with lower-priced producing countries such as China and India. Better-than-expected garment sector performance led to more than 13% growth in 2006. Faced with the possibility that its vibrant garment industry, with more than 200,000 jobs, could be in serious danger, the Cambodian government has committed itself to a policy of continued support for high labor standards in an attempt to maintain favor with buyers. The tourism industry continues to grow rapidly, with foreign visitors surpassing 1 million per year beginning in 2005.
In 2005, exploitable oil and natural gas deposits were found beneath Cambodia's territorial waters, representing a new revenue stream for the government once commercial extraction begins in the coming years. Mining also is attracting significant investor interest, particularly in the northeastern parts of the country. The long-term development of the economy remains a daunting challenge. The Cambodian government is working with bilateral and multilateral donors, including the World Bank and IMF, to address the country's many pressing needs. The major economic challenge for Cambodia over the next decade will be fashioning an economic environment in which the private sector can create enough jobs to handle Cambodia's demographic imbalance. More than 50% of the population is less than 21 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure.
Cambodia -- Culture --
Khmer culture, as developed and spread by the Khmer empire, has distinctive styles of dance, architecture and sculpture, which have strongly influenced neighbouring Laos and Thailand. Angkor Wat (Angkor means "city" and Wat "temple") is the best preserved example of Khmer architecture from the Angkorian era and hundreds of other temples have been discovered in and around the region. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the infamous prison of the Khmer Rouge, and Choeung Ek, one of the main Killing Fields are other important historic sites.
Bonn Om Teuk (Festival of Boat Racing), the annual boat rowing contest, is the most attended Cambodian national festival. Held at the end of the rainy season when the Mekong river begins to sink back to its normal levels allowing the Tonle Sap River to reverse flow, approximately 10% of Cambodia's population attends this event each year to play games, give thanks to the moon, watch fireworks, and attend the boat race in a carnival-type atmosphere. Popular games include cockfighting, soccer, and kicking a sey, which is similar to a footbag. Recent artistic figures include singers Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea (and later Meng Keo Pichenda), who introduced new musical styles to the country.
Rice, as in other Southeast Asian countries, is the staple grain, while fish from the Mekong and Tonle Sap also form an important part of the diet. The Cambodian per capita supply of fish and fish products for food and trade in 2000 was 20 kilograms of fish per year or 2 ounces per day per person. Some of the fish can be made into prahok for longer storage. Overall, the cuisine of Cambodia is similar to that of its Southeast Asian neighbours. The cuisine is relatively unknown to the world compared to that of its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam.
Football (soccer) is one of the more popular sports, although professional organized sports are not as prevalent in Cambodia as in western countries due to the economic conditions. The Cambodia national football team managed fourth in the 1972 Asian Cup but development has slowed since the civil war. Western sports such as volleyball, bodybuilding, field hockey, rugby union, and baseball are gaining popularity while traditional boat racing maintains its appeal as a national sport. Martial arts are also practiced in Cambodia which include the native art of Pradal Serey and Bokator.
Cambodia -- Political system, law and government --
The politics of Cambodia formally take place, according to the nation's constitution of 1993, in the framework of a parliamentary, representative democratic monarchy. The Prime Minister of Cambodia is the head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system, while the king is the head of state. The Prime Minister is appointed by the King, on the advice and with the approval of the National Assembly; the Prime Minister and his or her ministerial appointees exercise executive power in government. Legislative power is vested in both the executive and the two chambers of parliament, the National Assembly of Cambodia and the Senate.
On October 14, 2004, King Norodom Sihamoni was selected by a special nine-member throne council, part of a selection process that was quickly put in place after the surprise abdication of King Norodom Sihanouk a week before. Sihamoni's selection was endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly Speaker Prince Norodom Ranariddh (the new king's brother), both members of the throne council. He was crowned in Phnom Penh on October 29. The monarchy is symbolic and does not exercise political power. Norodom Sihamoni was trained in Cambodian classical dance. Due to his long stay in the Czech Republic (then part of Czechoslovakia) Norodom Sihamoni is fluent in the Czech language.